New York Metropolitan Flora

Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb. - Autumn Olive

Elaeagnus umbellata
Photo by Steven D. Glenn

Non-native , Common

By Angela Steward & Steven D. Glenn

Not peer reviewed

Last Modified 05/22/2013

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Elaeagnus umbellata

Common Names

Autumn Olive

Field Identification

Large shrub to 4 meters. Twigs covered in silver scales when young turning reddish-brown. Leaves alternate, entire, lanceolate or oblong, densely covered with silver-grey scales or brown scales below. Small yellow flowers solitary or in clusters of 2 or 3 scattered along twigs of the current year; fruits drupe-like, olive-shaped, yellow or brown, covered in silver scales.

Other uses

(Sather, 1987) (Reed, 1992)

Native to China, Korea and Japan, Autumn Olive was introduced (like Russian Olive) for use in horticulture. Autumn Olive was introduced into the New World for its use as a horticultural plant, desired for its silver leaves and colorful berries.

Due to its ability to adapt to a range of habitats, Autumn Olive is planted on highways for erosion control or for sheltering purposes. Since it is a nitrogen-fixing plant, it is commonly used in intercropping to better soil condition and increase growth yields. However, many of these practices have been curbed over its potential threat as an invasive plant.

While considered a problem plant, Autumn Olive does provides both cover and food for a variety of birds and mammals. The fruits provide food for deer, songbirds, and gamebirds until late winter and the foliage provides heat and nesting cover for birds and small mammals.


Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb., Fl. Jap. 66. 1784.
Elaeagnus crispa Thunb., Fl. Jap. 66. t. 14. 1784.
Elaeagnus umbellata subsp. eu-umbellata var. typica Servettaz, Monog. Eleagnac. 52. 1909.
Elaeagnus Argyi Leveille, Repert. Sp. Nov. Reg. Veg. 12: 101. 1913.
Elaeagnus coreanus Leveille, Repert. Sp. Nov. Reg. Veg. 12: 101. 1913.
Elaeagnus umbellata var. coreana Leveille, Cat. Pl. Yun-Nan, 83. 1916.
Elaeagnus crispa var. typica Nakai, Fl. Sylv. Kor. 17: 10, t. 1. 1928.
Elaeagnus crispa var. parvifolia Nakai, Fl. Sylv. Kor. 17: 11. 1928.
Elaeagnus crispa var. coreana Nakai, Fl. Sylv. Kor. 17: 12, t. 2. 1928.
TYPE: unknown


HABIT Perennial, deciduous, phanerophytic, shrub 1-8 m tall, monoclinous, dioecious, androdioecious or gynodioecious.

STEMS Main stems ascending or erect, round. Bark gray, not exfoliating. Twigs gray to dark brown to light brown, terete, smooth, glabrous, densely covered with small brown to silvery lepidote scales across surface; sometimes thorny. Pith dark brown or brown or light brown, round, continuous. Sap translucent.

BUDS Terminal and axillary present, scattered along stem; small, sessile, round or conical or oblong. Bud scales about 4, exposed. Bud scale scars not encircling the stem. Leaf scars half round with one vascular bundle scar.

LEAVES Alternate, simple, 1-3 per node, spaced somewhat evenly along stem, divergent from stem, exstipulate. Leaves petiolate, petiole flattened, 0.6-1 cm long, glabrous, densely covered with small silvery (occasionally brown) lepidote scales. Leaf blades: oblanceolate or elliptic or oblong, bilaterally symmetric, 3-7 cm long, 1.5-4 cm wide, chartaceous, base acute or cuneate, margin entire, apex acuminate or acute or obtuse, pinnately veined with 8-10 pairs of secondary veins. Abaxial surface silvery to silvery-green due to dense covering of small silvery (occasionally brown) lepidote scales. Adaxial surface green, usually moderately to sparesly beset with small silvery (occasionally brown) lepidote scales.

INFLORESCENCES Serotinous, formed on the current season's growth, bisexual or unisexual, axillary, solitary or fascicled with 1-3 flowers. Pedicels 3-5 mm long, densely covered with silver lepidote scales.

FLOWERS Bisexual or unisexual, incomplete, 4-merous, 8-12 mm long, 3-8 mm wide, perianth of one whorl. Hypanthium tubular, actinomorphic, light yellow, abaxial surface densely covered with silver lepidote scales. Sepal lobes 4, triangular, 3-5 mm long, adnate to top of hypanthium. Corolla absent. Styles 1, 8-12 mm long, about the length of the hypanthium, glabrous; stigmas 1. Ovary superior (appearing inferior by contraction of the hypanthium tube at the base of the style), 1-locular. Placentation basal. Stamens 4, filaments glabrous, straight, short, anthers comprising up to 3/4 of the stamen. Anthers dark brown to light brown or dark orange-yellow, versatile, dehiscing entire length of anther along the long axis, glabrous.

FRUITS Red or orange-red, ellipsoid, 5-10 mm long, 5-10 mm wide, glabrous, covered in lepidote scales.

SEEDS Seeds 1, dark brown or brown, ellipsoid, 4-7 mm long, 3-4 mm wide, glabrous, striate, with thickened cotyledons and little or no endosperm.


Occurs in mesic to dry disturbed areas, fields, pastures, thickets, roadsides, open woodlands, and forest edges; rarely encountered in dense forests or in wet sites.

Rarity Status

Heritage global rank -- G5

Species Biology

May through June



Fruiting August to October

Dispersal Endozoochory- bird dispersed

Germination Cold stratification required